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Can someone point me in the right direction regarding copyrighted artwork, how t shirts can be secured as copyrighted material, and any other information one should know before venturing into this business.

I've been seeing a large number of "Speaker City" t shirts and Im wondering if this is copyrighted, or freeley available to make as many copies as one desires.

Also, if a t shirt site doesnt explicity state that their artwork is copyrighted, who's to stop the guy next door from copying their art and selling their own shirts with that art?

Do you need to copyright each shirt design? What is the typical timeframe for getting a copyright for your art, etc?

All help is appreciated. First time posting, and looking forward to more discussion.

-=Vince
 

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Hi Vince,

I'm not a lawyer, and you would probably get better information talking to an intellectual property rights attorney, but...

The main source for finding out copyright information would be the US Copyright office:
http://www.copyright.gov/

They have a lot of main copyright questions answered in their FAQ:
http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/

All artwork is copyrighted at the time it is created. Registering a copyright usually only helps you to prove that you created the artwork first in case you want to go after another party for infringement (in which case you would need to hire a lawyer to prosecute the offenders).

In the Speaker City situation would probably fall under a "trademark". If there is a business that has the "Speaker City" name trademarked, they would have the most recourse in going after people using their name in t-shirt designs.

Unless you can prove you have the original copyright for a design, it can be come difficult to prove which design came first.

This part of the copyright site explains what can and can't be copyrighted:
http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#wwp

I believe the cost to register a copyright is around $20 for each work.

I've read that some people put all of their designs in a book format and copyright the whole book as one work.

If you are really worried, you may want to copyright each design separately.

The real test is how well your registration will hold up in a court of law in the event someone has stolen your copyrighted design. I don't know of any cases where this has been tested.

Some slogan based designs can and are trademarked. If your design is more slogan/text based, you may want to look into registering a trademark instead. Keep in mind that not all t-shirt slogans can be trademarked, as trademarked are usually reserved to protect "brands" rather than protecting a "slogan". If you can prove your slogan is your brand, I think you may have a better chance at securing a trademark.

Also, if a t shirt site doesnt explicity state that their artwork is copyrighted, who's to stop the guy next door from copying their art and selling their own shirts with that art
All work is copyrighted at the time it is created. Registering the copyright only helps to prove that you originated the artwork first, but it doesn't necessarily stop someone from using your design.

That's where lawyers and courts come in. Whether you have an official copyright, trademark, or whatever, if someone steals your design, you'll most likely need to hire an intellectual property rights attorney to protect your rights.

So if you have the money to hire an attorney to go after people who have stolen your design, then you probably have the money to hire an attorney to handle the copyright/trademark registration process.

I've gone through the trademark registration process and it can be an expensive and looong journey.

In some cases, it can be well worth the investment, but for small t-shirt companies just starting out, I've found that most are just fine by focusing their energies on creating unique designs and marketing those designs to the best of their abilities. After it takes off or starts to head in that direction, that's when I see most t-shirt companies start to protect certain designs or their overall brand. That way they aren't spending money on trying to protect something that may never sell well or even need protecting :)

But if you're a big corporation and/or you have the money for it and have confidence in your design and brand, why not go ahead and go through the steps beforehand to protect your design? I'm sure that's how companies like No Fear and Vulcom did it.

Even larger companies like "threadless" don't seem to have an official trademark registered (although American Apparel *does* have an official trademark).

Sorry for the rambling post. I hope this helps :) I plan to write an article about this in the upcoming weeks that's a bit more concise.
 

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I read somewhere on this board ( I think) if you change an image a number ??? of times, it becomes a new work of art. What is that magic number and can someone elaborate on the specifics a bit.

thanks,
Silverbolt
 

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I heard it was 7 things. change 7 things about an image and its yours. i also heard yo can put all your images in an envelope and ,mail it to yourself, and keep the envelope sealed. dont know how true it is so dont quote me on that. i have Tm's on all of my stuff and it took me 15 months to get it. i dont know about copyrights its probably the same. its costly $$$ for each, you can go straight to the goverment and it will be cheeper than getting it done through a lawyer.
 

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8POINT5BRAND said:
I heard it was 7 things. change 7 things about an image and its yours.
No. No no no no no no NO. There is no magic number. Even the smallest part of an original work being included in your own work can void your copyright and put you in legal trouble. It totally depends on the work involved, it's on a case by case basis, and there is no magic formula.

Adapting other people's work is simply a bad idea (unless you have written permission, in which case go for it). You are best off creating your own work, or hiring someone else to create it for you (under contract).

It would be easier to take other people's work, and it would be cheaper not to have to pay a lawyer to protect you. But life isn't easy or cheap. This is definitely "talk to your lawyer" territory if you're dealing with any kind of grey area.

8POINT5BRAND said:
i also heard yo can put all your images in an envelope and ,mail it to yourself, and keep the envelope sealed. dont know how true it is so dont quote me on that.
I finally got around to doing a bit of reading on this topic.

Basically Rodney is right - this offers you no legal protection.

Some surprisingly authoritive sources will sometimes recommend it as an economical solution, but it's not really worth the risk. Basically the reason it's not accepted is because it's too easy to forge.

The easiest way to do this would be to send an unsealed envelope to yourself, then later put something in it and seal it up. Courts are not stupid, they've already thought of this. Consequently they're unlikely to give this method much credence. From what I'm told it has never successfully been used in a court to prove ownership (though I know a lot of people who'd be curious to hear otherwise if you know an actual court case in which it worked).
 

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A good way to copyright your work is after it is created print it out and mail it to yourself but do not open it when you get the mail back. I do this with my custom art, although I have never had anybody try to rip me off (that I know of). This is a cheaper way since a stamp is alot less than than an actual copyright and should work as far as proving you created it first.

John
 

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Logo-Mechanix said:
A good way to copyright your work is...
No it's not, as I said in this thread three posts ago. I previously thought it might work, and I was wrong.

If you want more info on the topic read this.

A good way to copyright your work is to register it with an official copyright office (e.g. Library of Congress, National Library of Australia, etc.). Alternatively, document your work heavily and hope you can prove you own the copyright. Poor man's copyright, however, is a myth.

Do you need to register your copyright? Maybe, maybe not. That's up to you. But mailing it to yourself is unlikely to help. If you do insist on doing it, I'd at least suggest doing it properly - get the work signed, dated and witnessed and send it registered mail.
 

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Ask your lawyer if he's able to notarize your design documents and store them in the same way as will's etc.

This may work out cheaper as an ongoing arrangement.

As to a magic number of changes - there is none. If there is substantive similarity between your design and someone else's (made previously), then you could be guilty of "passing off".

Stuart
 

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Logo-Mechanix said:
A good way to copyright your work is after it is created print it out and mail it to yourself but do not open it when you get the mail back.

NOPE. that is a "myth", the poor mans copywrite has no weight if you ever need to use it in court:

****** said:
Question: I hear that the poor man's copyright provides enough protection. Can't I just use the poor man's copyright? Can't I just send myself a copy of my work and the postmark will be enough to prove the copyright?

Answer: No! - and there are two main reasons why the poor man's copyright isn't worth the cost of the stamps:

The poor man's copyright has no legal effect. There are no cases in which the poor man's copyright has been successful! The poor man's copyright has no legal standing anywhere! Any knowledgeable lawyer can show you it’s easy to fake!

Many of the benefits of registration are not available with the poor man's copyright.

You must copyright your work to collect royalties! Without registration within three months of publication, you can’t collect any damages or attorneys' fees for infringements that occur before registration or in that three-month period. You can lose a ton of money while trying to enforce your rights unless you register your copyright before the infringement occurs! You can collect statutory damages without any proof of financial harm -- it makes the case much easier to win!

The only rational way to protect your work is to register your copyright it!
 

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tea shert said:
NOPE. that is a "myth", the poor mans copywrite has no weight if you ever need to use it in court:
This was already covered in this very thread over a month ago, at least three times - no need to resurrect the thread.

(but yes, you are right)
 
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